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252                               LIFE  OF
-who had saved his life. In later years, also, when he
counted the most distinguished men among his friends,
the personal expression of his esteem remained ever
cold and measured, although in letters he is frequently
affectionate and enthusiastic enough. This is quite
right. Love and esteem were established as unal-
terable facts, which were proved by his whole life, but
which he preferred to avoid expressing verbally.
The calm investigating spirit formed an essential
feature in his character, and was probably confirmed
by constant intercourse with such men as Engel,
Biester, David Friedlander, &c., who were all clear-
headedy free-minded thinkers. With such friends,
Humboldt could cultivate his natural talents, and if
he excites admiration by the precocious boldness of
his thoughts, he probably ascribed his own early de-
velopment, partly to his friendship with these men,
whose aesthetic narrowness has3 fortunately, however,
not influenced his nature.
Besides the advantages of a beautiful family estate,
of the care of an excellent and gifted mother, and of
opportunities for enjoying the best education in one of
the most lively capitals of Germany, we must not omit
to mention the state and the man under whose protec-
tion the brothers Humboldt entered on their course of
life. Frederic the Great still lived ; he inspired all
Ms subjects with heroism and patriotism, and was ever
present to the youthful imagination of William and
Alexander as the highest ideal of a hero and a king.
He died in 1786, as they were on the point of quitting
Berlin for the university. With the death of the
great king a period of decadence and internal corrup-
tion commenced in the Prussian state, and it was
therefore a fortunate circumstance for the brothers
Humboldt that they left Berlin at that time, and che-
rished the untarnished noble impressions of their
youth ever present to their souls. They were thus
qualified to become the models of a better generation
on their return, and when the fatherland required
men with energy and power to pull down and rebuild,